MANCHESTER – Proactive training and a wide range of partnerships helped to quickly contain a wildfire that bordered Manchester, Lakehurst and the military base, according to state and local officials.
Assistant Division Fire Warden NJ Forest Fire Service Trevor Raynor said during a press conference the morning of April 12 that there were no injuries reported nor any structural damage caused by the fire. There were also no current air quality issues.
As of Wednesday morning the fire was 50 percent contained. There had been 170 people evacuated the night before, but they have returned to their homes and no further evacuations were being advised, officials said.
“The wildfire is 3,859 acres and is 50% contained which means the perimeter has been obstructed. We’re pretty sure it is on hold. The wildfire is north of Horicon Road and Beckerville Road on Route 70 south of the Joint Base and East of Rock Road in Lakehurst.
“We are not out of the woods yet. We have a dry stretch that will last through the week. We may have rain on the weekend,” Raynor said.
Manchester Police Chief Robert Dolan commended the cooperation of the numerous firefighting and emergency response agencies involved in the ongoing effort during the press conference.
Manchester Township Councilman Joseph Hankins who has a long association with firefighting in the area, stated that the proactive and consistent training drills by the various firefighting agencies helped prepare firefighters and helped prevent the wildfire from becoming a greater danger to the public.
Joint Base Public Affairs Office Captain May Morales noted that the Joint Base and local firefighters unified to respond to a fire off base near the Lakehurst side of the installation on April 11 and 12. Due to wind conditions the fire spread to a small portion on base.
The fire was named after a location near where it started – Jimmy’s Water Hole.
After the press conference, Chief State Fire Warden, NJ Forest Fire Service Gregory McLaughlin described what he observed. “I was there last night when the fire behavior increased and the fire essentially took off and started to spread very rapidly. This fire was moving at four and a half miles per hour which is extraordinary.”
“These things evolve so quickly. It doesn’t give you a lot of time to make decisions and to put those decisions into action especially when you have all these agencies involved. We pulled into a neighborhood on Division Street and we had at least 15 forest fire brush trucks there and structure protection, Manchester Police and we said we need to get these people out of here,” McLaughlin said. The evacuation sent 60 township residents to a shelter established at the Manchester Township High School.
The Manchester Office of Emergency Management had ordered evacuations along Beckerville Road, Horicon Avenue and Horicon Drive of 70 people in the Whiting section of the township and 100 residents of Lakehurst between Division Street and Myrtle Street were evacuated.
“They started knocking on doors and blaring their sirens and they got on their loud speakers. People were coming out. It was late, 11 o’clock at night, people were sleeping and they were startled but for the most part people were cooperative,” McLaughlin said.
He added that evacuating them from their homes, “was for their protection but it is also helping us to be able to navigate the fire scene as the smoking is almost blinding and we have more traffic and more cars it makes it that much more dangerous.”
Around 1:45 a.m. Wednesday the fire accelerated its pace. McLaughlin explained, “the terrain out there gradually ungulates down and it also goes from areas that are wet to areas that are dry and with those changes in topography you also have changes in the vegetation and the density of the vegetation there.”
McLaughlin added, “the fire had gotten into an area where the vegetation was lighter and it slowed down and it gave us a chance to do some of our backfiring operations along Central Avenue and then while we were pretty confident that this was working the fire actually entered a patch of fuel that was really heavy.”
“That creates a pre-heating effect so as the fire is spreading from tree to tree – each successive tree, bush or plant in front of the fire heats up, dries out and ignites that much quicker and the fire begins to build on itself. You also had embers, burning bark and pine needles near a community that was three miles from where the fire was,” McLaughlin further explained.
Proving Ground Church on Proving Ground Road in Lakehurst found itself surrounded by flames early Wednesday morning as the wildfire made its way toward Division Street in the north west corner of the borough. There was no damage to the building and services and programs at the church continued as scheduled.
“The fire came to the edges of our parking lot. We are thankful for the first responders who hosed down our building and pushed back the fire,” Campus Pastor Brian Preiser remarked.
Lead Pastor Nick Daleo added, “we are thankful to all the firefighters who protected our church.”
The fire will remain under investigation. Raynor noted that approximately 99% of wildfires are through human cause.